The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Our critics rating: 
Thursday, 26 June, 2014
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

It's a bit of a surprise to find this crisp Manhattan comedy of manners amongst five society sisters receiving its world premiere in Kilburn, of all places. The Tricycle's artistic director Indhu Rubasingham is to be commended for looking further afield for new plays -- she found this one during its development at Utah's Sundance Theatre Lab -- but this play's more natural home might have been an off-Broadway theatre, where its characters might have themselves felt more naturally at home. Since one of them sneers about a friend having to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn, I doubt they'd be seen slumming it in Kilburn.

On the other hand, the theatre is, of course, a parallel universe where belief has to sometimes be suspended, and these sisters seem to live in a parallel universe themselves, but they find that the truth cannot be endlessly kept at bay. So perhaps the apparent misfit of where the play is being put on casts an added ironic edge to a play that crisply plays with the arrival of some home truths and harsher realities.

While each sister is, in turn, given a strong back story, the brief running time of just 75 minutes doesn't exactly allow them to be bedded in as characters who've shared a lifetime and fully resolve their various conflicts in the here and now. We have to take too much on trust, just as they are fuelled by various levels of distrust.

Across six short scenes, we see the consequences that a controlling sister's actions have on her siblings, including a shocking surprise that it would be unfair to reveal here but which turns the action much darker.

Dysfunctional families, of course, have provided a solid bedrock for American dramatists from Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams to Tracy Letts. Adam Bock writes in an honourable tradition, but his play sometimes feels like a sketch for something that seems to be crying out for a bigger dramatic landscape and resonance. As a play about surface appearances tries to dig beneath them, too much remains too superficial.

Not all of the acting is as crisp or believable as it should be, but there are strong contributions from Claire Forlani as the eldest sister Willow and Charlotte Parry as the controlling sister Gemma.

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